This is ... subject matter that affects most people. We have very heightened emotions about mental illness. Music and theatre is meant to convey those heightened emotions.

-- Tom Kitt, composer, Next to Normal (a musical about a family living with a parent who has a mental illness) in an interview with PBS. The show won three Tony awards and the Pulitzer Prize.

WHY A MUSICAL ABOUT PTSD?

We see traumatized characters throughout media, from Odysseus weeping at the table of the Phaecians to the poetry of Siegfried Sassoon, a veteran of World War I, from "Bull" Meechum, the father in The Great Santini, to Katniss and Peta in The Hunger Games. Sometimes a story includes details that suggest to us why the character is so angry or withdrawn, so anxious, on such a hair trigger. Sometimes the story includes a journey to healing. However, if you're suffering yourself, the journey may have limited application to your own life. In the film Forrest Gump, for example, Lieutenant Dan (Gary Sinise) is full of anger after he returns from Vietnam. After weeks and months out on the ocean, we are told that he has found some peace. He's whole enough now to run the business after Forrest (Tom Hanks) leaves. Eventually he is well enough to be in a relationship. Is that the answer? Go off on your own into the wilderness or out on the ocean for a good long time, and eventually you will feel better. Do you have the time and resources to take a long break from your life and all your responsibilities? And will that really work?

In Good Will Hunting, when we meet Will (Matt Damon), he has the capacity for uncontrolled violence and is reluctant to trust anyone except his oldest friends. He grows to trust therapist Sean Maguire, played by Robin Williams, and seems to reach a turning point at a key moment when the doctor embraces him and repeats, "It's not your fault." Will breaks down weeping, and after that he seems to be past his his fear of change and intimacy. He leaves town to follow his girlfriend Skylar (Minnie Driver) across the country. Can it be as easy as that?

Trauma catches up to even superheroes. In Iron Man 3, Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr. has anxiety attacks and nightmares so bad that he prefers not to sleep. He builds a couple of dozen remote control Iron Man suits in order to feel safe. The precocious kid he connects with (Ty Simpkins) asks him outright whether he has PTSD. In the cathartic final battle, he destroys all the suits. The implication is that now he is healed.

When Liz Schiller found herself in the middle of some personal experience with trauma and PTSD, there was no way she could leave her family, home and work to swim or hike or live in the mountains for some indefinite period of time in order to achieve a possible recovery. All the fiction and memoir she read, all the movies she saw, could not tell her for sure how to get better. Liz wanted to know: what the hell is going on? And what can a person do about it?

Liz started reading. She read about the causes of trauma, and the symptoms. She read the most recent theories about the processes in the body that lead to the physical, mental and emotional effects of trauma. She discovered that there are in fact effective treatments for PTSD. But few people seem to know they exist. The general public opinion is that if you get PTSD, you are stuck with it for life.

After a year or two of reading, something strange started happening. Liz started thinking of rhymes that shaped themselves into verses and then into whole songs. She suddenly had characters living in her head.

She had this weird idea. How about a stage musical about PTSD? People learn through stories. Ideas find their way into the popular culture through, well, popular culture. Songs are catchy. They bypass our thinky brains and hit us right in the emotions. And it's through stories that we get into the heads of people who have had experiences we haven't had. The result: LOOK FOR ME, a musical about healing from trauma.

 

WHERE DOES THE PROJECT STAND?

The latest draft of the script was registered with the Writer's Guild in October, 2014. Demos of four songs were recorded in November, 2014, and additional demos were recorded through the first half of 2015. A public reading of the second draft of the script happened in September, 2015. As of September, 2016, the third draft of the script and music are very close to complete. If you'd like to review and comment on the script, contact us.

Ultimately, Liz's goal is to have a staged production which is filmed, so that the video may be streamed and seen by anyone, anywhere, at any time.

 

ABOUT LIZ SCHILLER

In 1990, an award-winning writer teaching at Berkeley told Liz that she had a good ear for dialog. Through the years, she put her writing ability to work creating brochures, an article or two, more fundraising letters and proposals than she can count, and a master's thesis based on original research that was complimented for its readability. Still, for many years, work and family came before her creative impulses.

In 2012, Liz wrote a radio adaptation updating the classic HP Lovecraft story “The Cave” into a suspenseful modern two-hander featuring a strong female lead for the nonprofit organization Audio Theater for Our Troops. In 2014, a television script she co-wrote with Andrew Helm, Last Chance, was named a semi-finalist in the Final Draft Big Break writing competition, Hour Pilot category, making it to the top 50 out of thousands of submissions.

After spending many years in the nonprofit sector as a community organizer, fundraiser, and volunteer, Liz now works in financial services. She lives in the Los Angeles area with her family.

 

ABOUT COMPOSER BEN WILKINS

Born and raised in Ontario, Ben majored in Classical Trumpet at McGill University, where he studied composition, arranging, singing, theory and jazz harmony, and spent countless nights sneaking into the piano studios after hours to write songs.

Upon graduation, he spent a year in China and then returned to Canada, where he performed regularly and started recording music. Ben's first independent release, “Back Of My Head EP,” was featured on NPR's All Things Considered. His singles “Back of My Head” and “Through To You” both spent time on the charts.

Ben's debut self-titled album, on Milagro Records, was released in October, 2011. It collected numerous favorable reviews and appeared on several year's best lists. Ben toured through Quebec and Ontario, headlining theaters and opening for David Usher, Eric Lapointe, Cowboy Junkies, and Matthew Good. The Chicoutimi Jazz and Blues Festival named him one of its Top Five Artists.

Between 2010 and 2014, Ben wrote arrangements, co-wrote songs and handled production for many Montreal artists, including James Di Salvio, Bran Van 3000, and 2010 Juno nominee Misstress Barbara.

Ben was awarded an Emerging Artist Sound Recording Grant from FACTOR (The Foundation Assisting Canadian Talent on Recording) for the production and marketing of his sophomore album. He also received a Sound Production grant from Cirque du Soleil and an Individual Artists grant from the Canada Council of the Arts. In 2014, he completed his second album, All From Hello, and relocated to Los Angeles. All From Hello is now available through iTunes, Amazon, and via Ben's website, which is here.